Living With Vampires

It’s vampire season in Oakland.

We sit at the bar, piles of cash and cigarettes and half-drunk bottles of wine—another end to another shift. It’s past midnight, and we’re all tired, itching to get home. “Just another ten minutes, I swear!” JL calls from the loft.

We sit there—all four of us—off the clock and waiting. Because we can’t leave someone to walk out alone.

I used to wonder as a little kid which would be worse: to live with werewolves or vampires? Werewolves could pulverize through anything, but you only had to deal with them one night a month. Vampires, on the other hand, were tricky, the color of shadows, and out there every single night. As soon as the sun went down, the streets would become a different thing, sinister, a free-for-all, an anything-goes zone where at any moment a pale, hungry creature could leap out and attack. And you could harbor illusions about fighting them off, but really, what were the chances you could actually drive a stake through their heart? You’d be defenseless, and all they’d see would be your virgin neck and throbbing vein and they’d want a drink—a drink of blood that was now theirs.

I imagined the constant stress, the constant level of awareness, the little ways that living with such creatures would reshape your life (“I left something in my car. Oh well, I’ll have to get it in the morning; not worth risking it.”), and in the end, I’d always decide that vampires were worse.

And it’s a similar feeling in Oakland right now—that when the sun goes down, the shadows come alive, and go on the hunt. There’s been a rash of robberies and violent assaults among the circles I frequent, enough that I can’t discount it as the usual fifth-most-dangerous-city-in-the-country shenanigans. No one can.

I forget how much it’s there, this constant consideration in the back of my head. I won’t take the train into the city if it means I’ll be coming home after dark; I don’t want to risk the walk back to my car from the station. I don’t go jogging at night—or at least, I drive up into Piedmont to do it. I suck it up and pay for parking in order to park right outside the restaurant I work at, so I again don’t have to risk walking farther than I have to.

But it’s gone a step further this year. After two guys I worked with got robbed at gunpoint leaving the restaurant, we stopped walking out even in pairs—we all leave work together now. After a girl from another restaurant got abducted, robbed and tortured, we won’t even let our manager stay late, even if her car is literally 50 feet from the door. She rearranges her schedule so that she comes in early, gets her office work done, and can leave with everyone else.

It’s like being a prisoner in a way. There’s no comfort in the fact that the fear applies equally to men and women, or that it’s not even fear that drive you all, but rather a statistical likelihood. When a third guy you work with got his nose broken last week, the reaction was largely anger—at him. “What the fuck was he doing thinking he could walk three blocks by himself?”

I keep thinking about Tirana, about my first late night at a bar, when everyone I’d come with had left.

“Where can I catch a cab?”

“A cab? You can walk, you know, it’s only 15 minutes.”

“Yeah, I know, but it’s late, and I’m alone…”

“Oh, but it’s totally safe.”

“I’d rather not risk it.”

A laugh. “Listen. In five years at the hostel, we’ve never heard of anyone ever having a problem.”

And it felt strange, walking through the two am streets, a foreign girl by herself. I couldn’t stop checking my back, walking briskly, staring down the few strangers I passed.

But eventually, I got used to it. And I almost felt giddy, elated by this strange sense of freedom—a sudden lightness and ease. Sometimes you don’t know what you’re missing until you get a taste of something better.

Just after one of the guys at work who got robbed, he posted a really telling Facebook status: “I knew it was bound to happen, living in Oakland caught up with me.” And it kind of broke my heart, because at times I feel the same way—like I’m just waiting for my number to be drawn. That I can be as careful and cautious as I’d like, but eventually, one day, I’ll let my guard down or take a risk, and it’ll be me, my turn, my time to get bitten.

When we finally walk out, it’s after one am. “That,” I sigh, “was not 10 minutes.”

“Nope.”

“But it’s not like we coulda left her there.”

“Nope.”

And we get in our cars and drive own separate homes, where we’ll circle to find the closest spot, walk briskly to the gate and slam it shut, tightly behind us.

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9 Responses to “Living With Vampires”


  1. 1 Hal Amen December 8, 2010 at 8:21 pm

    Damn, terrible. I don’t think I’ve ever lived anywhere like that. Except, I guess I eventually came to realize, BsAs.

    • 2 laurenquinn December 8, 2010 at 11:09 pm

      Yeah. It’s especially fucked when you think about the fact that all this is going down in one of the richest countries in the world. WTF?

      But when it’s all said and done, I love my hometown. I’ve lived with this shit my whole life, and it hasn’t driven me out yet. Just continually broken my heart, but you can live with that.

  2. 3 Naomi December 9, 2010 at 2:50 am

    This, times a million.

    My last day in Oakland, a friend had a gun pulled on him. It was then that I realised how down I was with that city. It’s home, and it will always be an anchor, but damn, was it nice to take a break. A long, long break. A break from worrying about friends walking home late at night, or friends getting robbed at their front door, or friends getting jumped by complete strangers just because they wanted to fuck somebody up. Oakland has such an amazing, beautiful personality outside of all of the crime, but sometimes it’s so damn hard to keep looking on the bright side.

    Stay safe!!

  3. 4 clickclackgorilla December 9, 2010 at 3:44 am

    Wow, how fucked up. Really hard to imagine as I’ve never lived anywhere remotely like it. Guess living in the middle of nowhere most of my life has had some pretty large upsides. Does explain why a large number of people I know where freaked out by the fact that I would and do walk around Frankfurt at all hours of the night alone. Stories like this certainly make me appreciate that feeling of safety more, especially since its actually coming from someone who I know hasn’t just been bombarded by the fear-mongering medie into being scared of pretty much everything.

  4. 6 Frank December 12, 2010 at 6:15 am

    I’ve lived in and near Detroit all my life. Far too many areas the city are NOT for walking, jogging. The irony is just a few miles outside city limits, it is reasonably safe. Lousy economic times contribute to be sure, but I guess certain areas of any large city anywhere can be hazardous to your health.
    Frank

  5. 7 Gray December 12, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    That is one of the saddest things I’ve ever read. I would be beyond furious if I was a prisoner in my own town, unable to go for a walk alone without worrying about being robbed, killed, or tortured. And like you say…what makes it even worse is that it’s right here in the US! It sounds like the Wild West. That is so messed up.

    • 8 laurenquinn December 12, 2010 at 4:14 pm

      Yeah, it’s funny what we settle for. We tend to normalize our environments, and I honestly forget that this isn’t how most people live. One of the maaaany reasons that travel is so important: to remind us of what else is out there. I think if more Americans knew that folks in other wealthy nations don’t live in this kind of constant fear (and it’s not usually such a conscious fear, mind you—usually just sits in the back of your head, like the possibility of a huge earthquake), we’d be more furious.

  6. 9 Ekua December 14, 2010 at 7:31 pm

    I can relate. This is the time of year when I start to think if living on the border of unsafe is worth it, when the sun is down at 4:30 and I feel the need to catch a cab to go short distances rather than taking the bus or walking. Or I don’t want to drive anywhere at night for fear that I won’t be able to find a parking spot when I come home.

    Some days at work, like today for example, the deeper issues that go along with Oakland or lower income SF being unsafe seem monumental…


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Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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